by Diane Spicer
Ankle injury prevention for hikers is a big deal.
And it should not be a matter of luck.
There are many things you should be doing to protect your ankle joints as they endure the pounding of walking while load bearing (carrying a pack or a baby carrier up a trail, for instance).
And if you have sore ankles after a hiker, you've got some work to do!
Job number one:
It's built around one bone called the talus, doing double duty: the talus joins the bones of the calf area (tibia and fibula) with the other foot bones.
It's the talus bone which distributes the weight of your body and whatever you're carrying to the bones beneath it in your foot.
I find it particularly cool that "talus" is also a geology word to indicate the jumbled rock pile found at the bottom of a steep slope.
However, talus slopes can be dangerous to ankles, given the tendency of loose stones to slide beneath the weight of a hiker.
It's your ankle joint which allows you to navigate these uneven surfaces, or to recover from stepping into a hole, and generally to give you mobility along the hiking trail.
Ever notice how your elbow and knee joints only bend like a hinge, not swivel around like the ankle?
Each joint is designed for a specific purpose, and in a highly mobile joint such as your ankle, you want to prevent injuries and retain full mobility so you can keep hiking.
Hikers bear a lot of weight from full backpacks, heavy water bottles, carrying children or babies, or having a bit of extra body weight.
Some ankle injuries are very common for hikers, so let's take a look at those now.
A common ankle injury on the hiking trail is a "twisted" or "sprained" ankle.
You haven't twisted the bones, but rather the soft tissue which is associated with this area joining the leg and the foot.
When ligaments "tear", your ankle becomes inflamed as a protective response to deal with the injury:
Time to get off the ankle and apply RICE:
Keep yourself off crutches by warming up before each hike: stretch your calf muscles, do some ankle rolls before lacing up your boots, make sure your entire body is loose and limber before tackling a steep section of the trail.
You may also hear about ankles strains.
These are different than sprains because it's the tendons of the muscles joined to the bone, not the ligaments, which are torn.
You will be facing a longer recovery time, because that area is not well served by the circulatory system.
For a complete litany of ankle injuries, read this.
Which brings us to another good reason for warming up before you hit the trail:
Ankle injury prevention shouldn't be confined to a few minutes at the trail head, however.
Here are a few tips for incorporating ankle care into your daily routine.
Ankle injury prevention is a full time job, but doesn't have to be expensive or onerous.
A bit of self care, including massage, never hurt the soft tissue of this joint!
If you do nothing else: stay hydrated.
It's a brilliant idea to walk every day, on uneven terrain if possible, to keep your ankles up for the job of dealing with trail conditions.
So here's a hiking joke for you:
Why do hikers have ankles?
That, and to take us up and down the trail.
So ankle injury prevention just makes sense for hikers AND mosquitoes, right?
If your feet hurt after a hike, use these tips to make life easier:
Ankle Injury Prevention Tips
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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer.
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